Chess is a game that I can honestly say, that I’m ok at but would not do well against a seasoned player. I do love the concept of chess though. Utilizing the same starting resources with the winner being determined by strategic planning and ability to adapt to their opponent.
We can find leadership in chess in a few different ways that wrap around strategic thinking.
You need to understand everyone’s role
The first step in learning how to play chess is to understand the roles of all the pieces (how they move, what they should do, priority, etc) so that you can actually begin to play the game.
The same has to happen with your team in order to be effective in your job. Yes, it’s important to understand the literal job that they sit in and what that role encompasses on the team, but it’s just as important to get to know the person to understand what unique talents and abilities that they bring to the table.
Knowing just about the role on the team without the personal context is like knowing only half of what each piece does. Can you still win? Sure, with easier challenges and opponents. You are going to be quickly taken out of a game though if you go in this way against a seasoned player.
Learn your people’s passions, talents, and motivators to take their role on the team over the top. They can help you move your strategy in a way that you may not even realize right now.
The best always think ahead
Good chess players are playing their turn, but they are thinking about several moves ahead. Playing chess can help you be a great strategic planner.
I use the chessboard analogy quite a bit when teaching leaders about being strategic when they think about the future of their talent and the strategy of the team and organization.
The idea is that you start with a hypothetical that is rooted in the real world and then you begin to play out how you would react and what your next steps would be.
For talent, we typically start with the hypothetical sudden opening in a key role. Who is the next person? What happens if that option doesn’t work out? Who is the backfill for the new role? Who is the backfill’s backfill? You can quickly find out where your strengths and opportunities are with the current and future strength of your team when you run scenarios like this.
For your business or goals, it’s a similar concept. Start throwing what-ifs into your work routine that are grounded in reality and probability. They can be rooted in business goals or maybe more soft skills in nature. If the business plan doesn’t take off like planned then what? How do I lead my people if someone were to, unfortunately, pass from COVID?
Running these with yourself and your team on occasion is always a worthwhile time investment. We actually call this type of exercise chessboard when we do it with other leaders.
Things change and you have to adapt
Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out like they were planned to. Life happens! In chess, you may have to change your strategic plan and begin reacting and changing your plan based on an unexpected move from the other side that just occurred.
Help your team see the changes before they occur and equip them to communicate their thoughts to you and the team as they occur. Some of the best companies in the US to adapt early to COVID saw what was happening in Asia and Europe and got ahead by beginning to change plans before it hit them. You’ll need to have a high degree of trust and respect built up between you and your people in order to be great here. They need to understand that you will value and take to heart their guidance and you need to trust they are thinking through things with the right mindset and have the right level of perspective for the issue at hand.
On a smaller scale, think about how you react to the smaller changes that happen to you on a regular basis? Does it wreck your day or stop productivity, or do you make a quick plan, adapt, and move on?
Handle change, both big and small, well to keep your plan moving forward.
Just as in chess, you’ll be a better leader when you understand what challenges you’re up against (The other player) understand your team well (the pieces) that execute on your plan well while being flexible to adapt along the way.
“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” -Micheal Scott
The Office continues to be a hit show years after the conclusion of the series. It’s both absurd and totally relatable. You’ve probably seen a little (or a lot) of Micheal in your supervisor and the likely experienced workplace drama that mimics the show to at least some degree. For leaders, you may see those cringe moments that Micheal has and can see yourself in those situations. Maybe it’s not to the extreme that he often goes to, but relatable nonetheless.
As bad of a boss that Miachel was, we can learn a thing or two about leadership from him, to help us be more effective when working with others.
Michael has a heart for his people
One of the most likable aspects of Michael’s character is how much he loves his team (except for Toby in HR). His misguided antics are often rooted in trying to save his people’s jobs, to do something to motivate his team, or to celebrate personal and professional success.
What are you willing to do for your team? What would you sacrifice and what length would you go to take care of them? to take that challenge further ask the same question about each individual that you work with.
A trusting and empowering leader is willing to put some risk on the line as well as their personal reputation in order for someone else to have a chance to succeed. Check your comfortability in letting others have the spotlight and understand where your personal boundaries are and how far your ego extends. You likely have room to further push for growth in this area.
Michael celebrated the success of others
We’ve talked at length in the past about the importance of celebrating success (ep 143) and having fun with your team (ep 120, 192). Lee Cockerell, retired EVP of Disney World talked about the idea of sharing appreciation, respect, and encouragement on ep 200. He and I have shared examples of cheap and imaginative ways that you can have fun and celebrate others.
Micheal and the office staff certainly lean into this idea. The Dundies are cheap annual awards that he would give out every year like the Oscars. People in the real world like them so n=mcuh that they by replicas and hand them out to others. The team also had a fun day with their own office Office Olympics. The medals were made out of paperclips and yogurt tins. Several people cherished their cheaply made medals because it held sentimental value to them.
I love formal recognition programs. They certainly have their place in highlighting someone’s effort and impact. I think there is a large opportunity to recognize others in a more informal, silly yet sincere way as well. Whether it’s the Dundees, Lee’s green hot sauce, or my All That and a Bag of Chips Award, do something different to recognize others.
Michael was available to his people and there when they needed him
There are many examples of Micheal being there for his people and having a personal investment in both their personal and professional endeavors. Pam had a high personal passion for art and got into a local art show. When she invited the office to the event, no one showed outside of her boyfriend who was very critical of the work. Michael shows up at the last moment and is truly impressed by her work. He buys her small painting of their office building and puts it on display outside of his personal office for the remainder of the show.
How do you think Pam felt about her leader after that showing of compassion, care, and authenticity?
Don’t’ let the hustle and bustle of the day or the fact that you aren’t physically with someone on a daily basis hold you back from being authentic and available to others. Check-in with your people on a consistent basis so that there is a consistent flow of communication to fill in the questions and gaps that people may have surrounding their work and expectations. Be sure to connect on a personal level as well. Instead of asking “How are you?” start the conversation off with a follow-up to something personal that was previously shared.
You will gain a lot of ground in garnering trust, respect, and admiration from your people when you show your investment in them on a personal level.
Michael Scott is certainly an over-the-top leader on The Office. Peel away the craziness and you’ll see a person that cares for others, know the power of celebrating wins and
We are excited to have Marc join us on the show today! I think you’ll enjoy his insight into how to lead in a crisis and other lessons that he learned while serving in senior roles in the CIA. – ZH
Marc Polymeropoulos retired in June 2019 from the Senior Intelligence Service ranks at the CIA after a 26-year career in operational headquarters and field management assignments covering the Middle East, Europe, Eurasia, and counter-terrorism. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and he is one of the CIA’s most decorated field officers. Marc is the recipient of the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal, the Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the Intelligence Medal of Merit, and the Intelligence Commendation medal. His last position was overseeing the CIA’s clandestine operations in Europe and Eurasia. He is a respected commentator on foreign policy and intelligence matters and is widely quoted in both the US and international media.
Sometimes, we push ourselves so hard to be a great leader of others that we forget about ourselves in the process. I’ve seen leaders burn themselves out, lose their passion, and have a drop in health among other things because they didn’t lead themselves well. Here are some tips to help keep yourself on track and truly be your own best boss.
Cut yourself some slack
I know a lot of good leaders that treat their teams very well. They are compassionate, forgiving, and lead with empathy towards others. At the same time, that same leader is extremely hard on themselves when they fall short of a goal or don’t meet the expectations that they set upon themselves.
I know the type well. I used to be that guy!
Even if you aren’t a leader of people think about how you treat friends, family, and those you work with. It’s the same concept. Do you treat others better than you treat yourself?
Cut yourself some slack. Others aren’t expecting you to be perfect. Give yourself the same compassion and forgiveness that you give others. Being too hard on yourself doesn’t accomplish anything, but waste mental and emotional energy. You can dust yourself and get back out there to try harder without beating yourself up in the process.
Map the deadends and hazards throughout your journey
You can learn just as much from the bad as you can from the good. Reflect back on your work life and think about those supervisors that were just awful. What behaviors made them so bad? How did they treat others? What were some of the other reasons that made it such a bad experience?
Your learnings don’t have to come from a bad boss. Pull from those bad experiences that you had with other businesses, times you’ve seen someone lose their cool or made a fool of themselves, you can even pick up the “don’t dos” from TV, the news, and especially social media.
I would say my leadership drive and behaviors balance the thought of modeling great behavior and committing to not repeating others’ sins. An example of this comes in many of the change management pieces I’ve launched. They typically start from a very personal place of “I will be the last one to experience (Insert bad experience)” or if it’s someone else “No more (Insert name)”. If I say as a mantra “No more Mike Floyds” I don’t mean that I don’t want any more Mikes. It means that I recognize a bad experience that he had, and we will drive towards a change that eliminates the scenario or the possibility going forward.
Following this frame of reference as you continue to grow makes you a better leader to yourself and to others.
Push yourself for personal development
Sometimes we forget about ourselves as we push others to grow and meet their career goals. Map out and plan your own development. It’s great to have long-term aspirations that you want to achieve, so it’s great to think about yourself in yearly blocks as you work towards a larger goal. How do you want to be different a year from now? What are some small things that you can work on to grow your effectiveness? Some areas to consider include:
Furthering your education
Growing your experience in a new area
Increasing your depth of expertise in an area
Expanding your personal and professional network
Growing in a leadership soft skill – coaching, EQ, trust-building, etc
The servant leadership model says that your job as a leader to serve and support those that are under you instead of expecting them to serve you. That doesn’t mean you have to give all of yourself up in the process.
Your people matter and so do you. be your own best boss and lead yourself well. You’ll take your leadership to a whole new level and have a deeper satisfaction in what you do.
Thank you so much for supporting us over the last six years! Today we have both Neha and Michael with me as we talk about lessons learned over the last year, a look back to the challenges we all have been through, a peek behind the scenes, and a look towards year 7.
Unconscious bias, or implicit association, plays a part in all of our lives and how we lead others. Last week we discussed what this kind of bias is and what the types of unconscious bias are. Today we are jumping into finding it in our own lives and then strategies to address it in an actionable way.
Discover and recognize your unconscious bias
It can be hard to see our unconscious bias. It’s called unconscious for a reason! Instead of tracking your brain for what basis you may have, look at it from a simpler perspective.
Think about the decisions that you make that center around people that you don’t give much thought to. Take a moment to think about the reasons that you made the decision that you did. Do you task a female leader as the one to provide emotional support when someone is going through a hard time, because you feel like women are more empathetic? Do you put a male in charge of lofty sales goals because you feel like men are more goal-oriented and action-focused?
Taking time to reflect and assess the root causes of some of your decision-making processes is s a great place to start in recognizing and discovering your own unintentional bias.
Take the test
Harvard University can help you get a jump start in uncovering your unconscious bias through a free self-assessment. Once you enter the site, you can choose from 15 different areas of gender, race, sexuality, and a number of other things to assess yourself in. I know that I have an affinity towards our Native American population in the U.S. The assessment proved just that. While I consider native Americans and Whites equal, I have a slight automatic association of American with Native Americans and Foreign with Whites.
Interestingly, more than 50% of the near 250,000 that have taken the Native American test first reported as viewing both groups equally, but only 20% completed the test that way. The majority found out that a majority of people have a bias towards Whites over Native Americans.
Focus on the tree
There is a saying about people that miss the big picture that goes, “They can’t see the forest for the trees.” meaning that they get derailed in the specifics or something not important and in turn miss the big picture of what’s going on around them. To help in growing through your bias I want you to try to see the tree instead of the forest.
The forest in the example is the collection of the characteristics of a person’s background that you believe to be true. Instead of focusing on all the preconceived notions and mental baggage that we attach to people, focus on the individual right in front of you. Let their actions and words stand on their own. Give them a chance to build trust and a reputation with you based on their own merits and abilities.
Discuss and learn
After you have uncovered some of the biases that you may have, be authentic and vulnerable to discuss them with others, particularly with people from socially dissimilar groups. Many larger organizations are starting business (or employee) resource groups that bring together people with similar backgrounds or interests. Join up with some of these groups to learn more and challenge the notions that you have about them.
If you don’t have BRGs or ERGs at your workplace, be mindful to introduce yourself to a different view online or in your community. As funny as it sounds, I think it’s easier to find this in the community than it is online. Your social media algorithms push content that aligns with your current thoughts and preferences and suppresses opposing views. (See The Social Dilemma) You’ll need to go out of your way to find it on social media, but it’s out there.
We’ve all got unconscious bias. Understand what it is and how it impacts your leadership decisions on a regular basis. Use the techniques and tips above to begin addressing those ideas and become a more inclusive leader as a result.